How to motivate your readers to trust and listen to you

If you’re an online writer or entrepreneur, you’re trying to get and keep an audience. You want gain your readers’ trust so they’ll listen to you. If you sell services or products, ultimately you want your readers to buy from you.

But people don’t just listen to you or buy from you automatically. You have to motivate them to do so. We’ve talked before about how to get your readers to buy your products and the factors that influence buyers’ decisions. This post addresses some of your audience’s motivations, and how you can use these to gain your readers’ trust.

First, before your readers will buy from you, you have to get them to listen to you. How can you show them you know what you’re talking about?

You have to establish a motive for your audience to listen. They’re not just sitting around, refreshing your website until you post something. You need to take advantage of built-in audience motivations, and tell them how the information is relevant to them. Your approach should be, “This information will help you do better or know more about such-and-such.”

Get to know your readers, and present information that relates to them. Adapting your message to the people in your audience will help you stay audience-centered. You can also use the unexpected and surprise people with something unpredictable.

Stories are a great way to get your audience to listen to you. Use conflict to pit one side against the other, or highlight opposing forces. Action sets the stage, moves to the conclusion and ties up the ending. Suspense keeps your audience guessing, and humor when appropriate can keep their interest.

Stories can be from your own experience and can use one of two strategies. They can be about someone who used the information you’re giving and the results they got. They can also be about someone who didn’t use the information and the negative consequences they suffered.

The first strategy is one of positive motivation, or telling your audience that good things will happen if they follow your advice. To use this technique, determine what your audience values most, then tailor your message to offer that to them. For example, if you’re an online businessperson and you want readers to enroll in your course, tell them the positive benefits of enrollment. If you’re selling products, tell readers why they should want your product and why it’s useful.

The second strategy is negative motivation. It’s the opposite approach. You tell your audience what bad things will happen if they don’t listen to your advice. This approach uses fear appeals to threaten your audience with negative consequences if they don’t use your information. Fear appeals are more successful if you can convince readers that the threat is real and will probably occur unless they take action. This is where building trust comes in: The more competent, trustworthy, or respected you are, the more successful an appeal to fear will be.

Now that you have your audience listening to you, you can appeal to what motivates them to buy. According to William J. McGuire, who was a professor of psychology at Yale University, there are psychological motives that affect consumers.

Motivating-customers

If you’re an online entrepreneur, you can use various motives to get your readers to become buyers. Once you establish trust with your readers, they’re more likely to become buyers.

I tried to do some further research on McGuire, and I found this site that says there are 16 psychological motives. But then I found this marketing teacher site that says there are 12 motives. So while I’m pretty sure McGuire named 16, I’m not completely sure. In any case, we’ll just look at six of them here:

  1. Self-Expression: Letting others know by our actions, including the things we buy and display, what and who we are. This means we often buy and use services and products to maintain a desired self-concept. In advertising, there must be a relationship between self-concept and product image for it to be relevant to an audience.
  2. Novelty: The need for variety, for something new and different. This happens when consumers switch brands or impulse buy. People in stable situations become restless and may want change. The old saying, “Variety is the spice of life” applies here.
  3. Reinforcement: Buying products that give you reinforcement or compliments from others that you’ve made a good choice. This includes products such as cars, clothing, purses and bags. The reinforcement relates to the person’s need to enhance their self-image.
  4. Affiliation: The need to share and be accepted by others. This might include products aimed at mothers looking after the health of their families, or beer commercials that suggest a sense of enjoyment and belonging.
  5. Modeling: The need to model other people and base our behavior on that of others. People who desire to maintain conformity with reference groups show modeling behavior. Advertisers hit this motive by showing desirable individuals using their brands, the message being that if you use this product, you’ll be desirable, too.
  6. Ego defense: The need to defend our egos and identities, and to protect our self-concepts when our identities are threatened. This means consumers may rely on well-known brands to avoid making a socially incorrect purchase. Have you ever thought about buying something, then thought to yourself, “No, if I buy that, my friends will think I’m crazy”? Then you buy the more familiar brand or product? That’s ego defense.

If you can find out which of these motives (and it may be more than one) encourages your audience, you can design a sales appeal that speaks to that motive. That should increase your chances of getting your readers to become buyers.

These techniques and strategies should help you get your readers to first listen to you and trust you, then motivate them to buy products and services from you. Advertisers and marketers use these same techniques to get people, including you, to buy things. As long as you’re selling an authentic product or service that will genuinely help your audience, there’s nothing wrong with using a few time-honored marketing techniques to increase your chances of converting them into customers.

Readers, what techniques do you use to sell products to your customers? Do you have anything specific that has worked? Or not worked? Let us know in the comments!

Keeping you informed: My top five favorite links

Here’s another round-up of my five favorite links that I’ve read and shared on Twitter, Facebook and Google+ over the past few weeks. I’ll give you the link and a brief description of what the article is about and why I liked it. Take a look at the ones that intrigue you.

1. Who’s In The Office? The American Workday In One Graph

This fascinating interactive chart shows the typical workday for many different industries and professions. You can click on “All Jobs” or show a particular industry to see when most people work. This shows that most people still work a traditional workday of 9 to 5. Some industries, such as protective services; food preparation and serving; and arts, entertainment and media have more evening hours than other industries.

I liked this post because it combined fun with information. I used to work at a newspaper where I had to work some evening hours to meet a midnight deadline. This chart shows that even with the changes in how we work today, most of us still keep traditional hours. Now that I’m working at home and have flexibility, I still like to get the bulk of my work done during the day. However, I often get a surge of mental energy in the evenings and sometimes use that time to get more done. It was interesting to compare the schedules of different industries.

2. How Much of Yourself Do You Share on Social Media?

Should you share on social media, just because you can? What’s too private or uninteresting to share? This post poses those questions. The author considers the differences between authenticity, transparency and vulnerability. He says authenticity is the way you share, and transparency is the things you share. He urges us to always be authentic, even if we don’t share everything. He defines vulnerability as sharing the good and bad. By working with these three factors, you can decide what you feel comfortable sharing and how you share it.

I like to read posts that analyze what and how we share online in this age of social media. I tend to be pretty reserved about what I share, but some of the people I’m connected to share everything. I like the way this post puts sharing into terms of the three factors. When I do share, I’m authentic, but I don’t feel comfortable being too vulnerable. This post backs up what I’ve always believed: Just because we can share everything on social media doesn’t mean we have to, or that we should.

3. How to Smack Down Your Inner Critic Once and For All

This post takes a personal approach. The author describes his own problem with absentmindness and how he overcame it using a mindfulness technique. The technique involves using the breath to step back and watch your thoughts without identifying with them. Then, you let the destructive thoughts go, which allows you to create a space in your mind to rationally think through the problem.

We all have an inner critic. Often, I think our inner critic is harsher than any other critic. If you have a particular bad cycle of thoughts that disrupts your productivity, this technique can help. I’ve also done yoga, which teaches mindfulness, and this article shows that a mindful approach can be applied in many ways. Remembering to stop, breathe and let your thoughts go can help you get past your inner critic and on to being productive.

4. How Freelance Writers Can Choose Self-Confidence

This article talks about how our own inner talk undermines our self-confidence. The author gives a couple of tricks she used when she noticed her own negative self-talk, including wearing a rubber band and snapping it against her wrist. The pain helped her break the habit. But then the author points out that what helped her most was to choose self-confidence. Once she chose to have a better view of herself, her life improved.

I liked this article because it presents confidence as a choice. I’ve read many articles that say happiness is a choice, but I hadn’t seen confidence described that way. But I agree with it. We can’t control what other people think about us, but we can control how we react and what we think of ourselves. Maybe choosing confidence and happiness go hand in hand – if we’re more confident, we can also be happy with where our careers and lives are going.

5. Permission to Kick Ass: Granted

These last three links seem to have a theme, don’t they? This article also focuses on our talk about ourselves, but it focuses on what we say about what we do. The author proposes that your goal should be to do great things, instead of just expend great effort. Begin by adjusting your outlook to focus on success, then say yes to the right opportunities, and decide what success looks like to you.

I liked this article’s bold approach. Don’t we all want to kick a little ass, at least as far as what we do? This author combines boldness with practical tips that can help all of us picture ourselves succeeding. She points out that this is especially hard for women. I agree that even though some of the old stereotypes are disappearing, they’re not gone yet. I like the idea of having a clear vision and behaving like I’m already successful.

Now that I’m done with this post, I’m going to tell my inner critic to shut up, be confident that I’m good at what I do, and behave like a successful person!

I hope you enjoy these articles as much as I did!

Readers, what articles did you enjoy over the past few weeks? Which one on my list was your favorite? Share a link or a comment!

How do you get your readers to buy your products?

Any blogger or online entrepreneur wants to appeal to an audience. You have to find your niche to find readers, right? And if you have expertise or products to sell, you hope to turn some of those readers into buyers.

Finding readers and turning them into buyers doesn’t happen overnight. It takes some effort to find the right formula. We can take a few lessons from marketers and advertisers, especially if we didn’t come from that world before we started blogging. In the end, that’s what we need to do: market and advertise that we have knowledge, expertise, or products that will help our niche.

If you’re a blogger, and you’re trying to sell your own products, you need to understand why your customers buy. To better understand your potential customers’ buying behavior, it helps to understand the factors that influence people’s buying decisions.

Buying-behavior

If you have expertise or products to sell online, and you want to turn your readers into buyers, it helps to understand what influences your readers’ buying behavior.

Cultural, social, personal and psychological characteristics are one group of factors. Of those, culture is the most basic determinant of a person’s wants and behavior. Culture is so important because we learn our perceptions, behaviors and basic values and wants from our cultural institutions, such as church, school and family.

America is made up of many subcultures, such as racial groups, religious groups, age groups, immigrant groups and people from geographical areas. Marketers track cultural changes so they can develop new products and target various cultures. Bloggers who are trying to sell can do this, too. Figure out which part of the culture is most likely to buy your products or services, and target it.

Another important determinant in buying behavior is social class, which is determined by income, education and occupation. Members of a particular social class share values, behaviors, interests and buying behavior. If you want to target a particular social class, knowing what each class shares can help you market your expertise.

Groups are another factor in influencing buying decisions. People are either members of a group or aspire to be part of a group. Groups have a direct or indirect influence on our behaviors and attitudes. They expose us to new behaviors and lifestyles, making us want to “fit in.”

We all belong to groups. Think about it: Are you involved in a club or organization, a volunteer group, or a support group? Are you in a blogging or freelancer’s group? If you’re employed by a company, that’s a group. Your family, your neighborhood, your city, your grade school and high school class and your church are all examples of groups.

A membership group is a group we currently belong to that has a direct influence on us. An aspirational group is a group we want to belong to, but we don’t. When we don’t belong to a group, that also influences us because we either wish we were a part of that group, or we disdain the group.

Advertisers try to identify the reference groups of the target market they are trying to reach. If you’re trying to find customers, you can research your audience to find out which groups they belong to, then use that information in your marketing efforts.

You can also use a strategy from advertisers, which is to create audience needs and meet them. You’ve probably heard of Abraham Maslow’s famous “Hierarchy of Needs.” He described five levels of needs that you can appeal to: physiological, safety, social, self-esteem and self-actualization. You can point out these needs and center your products around solutions that will meet them.

A couple of other needs not covered by Maslow can also be a way to appeal to your customers. Stimulation is the need to find life interesting and have a variety of experiences. It’s the things people do for enjoyment. Acquisition is the need to buy goods and services that go beyond basic needs of food, clothing and shelter. In other words: stuff. We all buy things we want, but don’t really need, even if we try to live a frugal and non-materialistic life.

If you’re trying to create an online business or monetize your blog, you need to know where and how to market what you have to sell. Learning about the culture, social class, group memberships and needs of your audience can help you identify the most likely customers.

Once you figure out who your ideal customer is, you can find the right formula to sell your expertise to your niche of readers.

Readers, what lessons have you learned in trying to market products and services to your customers? Have you been successful in establishing an online business? Let us know in the comments!

How to make your nouns and verbs agree for better blog writing

In today’s lesson post, we’ll look at noun-verb agreement. As usual, this lesson is inspired by the errors I’ve seen on actual blog posts. Writers who aren’t being careful about their grammar can too easily have nouns and verbs that disagree.

Noun-verb-agreement

Editing your posts for proper noun-verb agreement can make your blog writing less sloppy and careless and more professional.

In case you forgot the grammar lesson from school, here is a reminder: A singular noun takes a singular verb, and a plural noun takes a plural verb.

This sounds simple, and it can be. But it can also get complex as sentences get more complex. This rule will make more sense if we look at some examples and the explanations of how to fix them. Let’s get to it, shall we?

Example 1: Company B’s social media goal setting include establishing connections for both the artist and organizations, to include purchase of art.

This example came from a professional monetized site about social media management.

The error: The noun is “goal setting,” which is singular. The verb is “include,” which is plural.

The fix: To make them agree, we need to make the verb singular.

The correct sentence: Company B’s social media goal setting includes establishing connections for both the artist and organizations, to include purchase of art.

Example 2: Is Promotional Items Effective in Bringing More Customers to Your Business?

This one came from the owner of an advice blog for new entrepreneurs.

The error: This was the headline to a blog post, so the agreement error was the first thing I saw in rather large text. Since it’s a question, the noun and verb are turned around. The noun in question is “promotional items,” which is plural, and the verb is “is,” which is singular.

The fix: This verb needs to be made plural so it agrees with the noun.

The correct sentence: Are Promotional Items Effective in Bringing More Customers to Your Business?

Example 3: Write out how the list relate to the other lists according to your sales funnel.

This example is from the monetized blog of someone who sells home business coaching services and advice for women.

The error: The noun, list, is singular, and the verb, relate, is plural.

The fix: This can be fixed in the same way as the previous two examples: by making both the noun and verb singular or making both plural. In this case, you can fix it either way, by writing either “list relates” or “lists relate.”

The correct sentence: Write out how the list relates to the other lists according to your sales funnel. OR Write out how the lists relate to the other lists according to your sales funnel.

The final lesson: Make sure the noun and verb agree in number. Both should be either singular or plural.

Knowing the difference between singular and plural nouns is usually pretty easy. If it has an “s” on the end, it’s usually plural. Exceptions are irregular nouns, such as goose, which becomes geese, or mouse, which becomes mice. But knowing when verbs are plural requires remembering some conjugation rules. Verbs don’t necessarily become plural by adding an “s.” For example, “I play ball” is first person singular, but “We play ball” is first person plural. “He plays ball” is third person singular, even though it has an “s” on the end.

Most of these rules are probably second nature to those of us who write and edit regularly, but if we’re not careful, agreement errors can creep in. In the examples above, a little more care in making sure the nouns and verbs agree would have elevated these sentences to a more professional level of writing. If you want to avoid the same errors these writers have made, take a look at your nouns and verbs to make sure they agree.

Readers, do you pay attention to noun-verb agreement? Do you find it difficult to keep track of singulars and plurals in long sentences? Let us know in the comments!

How communicating with your audience works

Blogging is a form of communication. You write a blog post, put it on your site, and your audience reads it. And hopefully, they comment on it. You’ve sent a message, and your readers have received it.

But have you ever thought about the process of communicating a message to your audience? And what could happen to interfere with that process? Communication is a process, and no matter what medium you’re using, the process is the same.

How does the communication process between the blog writer and the reader work? It’s a circular, interactive process with several steps. Here is a picture of the model, then I’ll explain it below:

Communication-Model

 

  1. Communication begins with the source, which is the party sending the message.
  2. The message is encoded into some form that can be interpreted, such as words, audio or video. The message is then sent through a channel, such as newspapers, radio, television or the Internet.
  3. Then the message is decoded on the other side of the medium when the receiver interprets the message and assigns meaning to it.
  4. The receiver is the person on the other end receiving the message. The receiver may respond to the message in some way.
  5. The receiver can also give feedback to the sender. This happens when the receiver contacts the sender and either praises or complains. Feedback allows the sender to monitor the effectiveness of the message.
  6. Noise can occur at any step in this process and interfere with the process.

Now, let’s apply this general communication model to a blog. We can think of the model in three parts. The first part involves the source and the message. In the case of a blog, the source is the person who writes the blog post. I’ll bet you didn’t think you were doing something fancy like “encoding” when you wrote your blog posts, did you? But that’s simply what encoding means: putting the message into some form an audience can understand. The blog is also your channel, or how your message is sent to your readers.

Then we get to the second part of the model, where the receiver, who is your reader, gets involved. The reader comes to your channel – your blog. Just as you encoded the message, your reader now decodes it. This just means they read it, think about it and interpret it. And you hope they understand it.

At this point, we move into the third part of the model, where the audience gives feedback to the source. On a blog, the reader may respond by commenting or sharing on social media. This is great feedback for a blog author. Even negative feedback is good feedback. That means someone cares enough about what you write to take the time to respond. If you track your Google analytics, your statistics such as time on site, number of pages visited and bounce rate are a form of feedback. These numbers tell you how many people are staying to interact with your message and how many are simply bouncing away.

At any point in the communications process, noise can interfere with a message or cause a distraction. It can be external and physical. For example, I have music playing in the background while I work. (At the moment, “Dream On” by Aerosmith is playing.) Sometimes, it can be distracting and I have to change it. Think of other noises, such as an airplane overhead, the air conditioner, or a neighbor’s lawn mower. I also have three cats, who like to jump in my lap while I work. Or walk across my keyboard. Or decide to wrestle and play while I’m writing.

I’ve given some fun examples of external noise, but noise can also be internal. Grammar, spelling or punctuation errors in a blog post can cause readers to shake their heads and click away from your post. That’s the noise of a poorly focused or unclear message. Noise can also happen when a blog post is stuck in the clutter of lot of other messages, which occurs way too easily on the crowded Internet.

Noise can also be in the reader’s head. The reader may be distracted by other things, whether they want to enjoy your blog post or not. How many times have you been reading something and thought, “I want to enjoy this, but I just can’t focus on it. I’ll come back to it later”?

Previous communication models depicted a linear process, but then theorists realized it was too simplistic. They constructed the circular model we’re looking at today. This model adds two elements to our understanding of communication. First, audiences of today aren’t passive. They respond to sources. Most often, that happens through social media. Second, sources and audiences are affected by their situation or context.

Now, we view communication as a transaction. The previous linear models didn’t account for the simultaneous nature of communication. Sources and audiences constantly send and receive verbal and nonverbal messages back and forth.

Communication across any medium today is a two-way process. For the blogger, the sending and feedback may be more direct than with a larger media channel, such as a TV or radio station. But the process is still the same. Keeping the communication model in mind when you write a blog post and respond to comments will help you understand and improve your communication with your audience.

Readers, have you thought about how you communicate with your audience? How will this model help you? Let us know in the comments!

Keeping you informed: Great links you should read

It’s another round-up of the best links that I’ve read and shared on Twitter, Facebook and Google+ over the past few weeks. Here are my six favorites. I’ll give you the link and a brief description of what the article is about and why I liked it. Take a look at the ones that intrigue you!

1. No Time To Think

This article is about how far people will go to avoid reflection, introspection and thinking. It discusses how we have to be doing something all the time, then talk about how busy we are. Even when standing in line at the grocery store, we whip our smartphones out because we can’t stand to just think for a few minutes. When we think, we tend to dwell on the problems in our lives, and in general, we don’t want to do that.

I enjoyed this article, while at the same time I feel saddened by it. I think we have become so “sped up” as a society that we’re afraid to slow down and think. I don’t know if it’s because we’re afraid of our own thoughts, as the article talks about, or if it’s because we’re afraid of what we’ll look like to other people – idle and staring off into space. Maybe some idleness will help us confront our feelings, solve our problems and enjoy our lives again.

2. 10 Lessons from 4 Years Working Remotely at Automattic

This blog post gives Sara Rosso’s reflections on a work-at-home lifestyle. She works for a company, unlike those of us who blog and/or freelance, but the lessons are relevant to anyone who works at home. Her lessons include setting your own expectations and routines, how you interact with people as much as or more so than in person, and how important it is to prioritize your health and take holidays.

I’ve been working at home for a few months now, and it’s definitely an adjustment from being in a workplace with colleagues. I liked reading Sara’s perspective on working at home. Even though I’m working to launch a freelance career, rather than work remotely for a company, I related to several of her lessons. I think anyone who works at home will get something from this post.

3. 60 Small Ways to Improve Your Life in the Next 100 Days

This is a list of different things you can do to see the good things in your life and to create more happiness with what you already have. The ideas are categorized into home, happiness, relationships, social and others. It’s not meant for you to do all 60 ideas, but to give you a few ideas to implement.

I’ve just finished a 100 Happy Days project, where you take and post a picture of one thing that makes you happy each day for 100 days on Instagram or Twitter, using the #100HappyDays hashtag. This list is neat because it has a lot of small ideas, which emphasizes that small changes can make a big difference. Now that I’m in the habit of seeing the goodness in my life, this list gives me many more ideas on what else I can do to stay happy.

4. Never Stop Learning: How Self-Education Creates a Bullet-Proof Career

This article talks about how continuous learning keeps you growing in your skills and your career. In today’s professional market, keeping the same job for decades is not very common, and is an outdated way of thinking. Learning will help you stay nimble and ready for career transitions. The article gives several ways you can ignite your passion for learning.

I love to learn and consider it a lifelong endeavor. With all of the free or cheap books, podcasts and lectures available today, there’s no excuse for not learning something new. I like how this article applies learning to your career. These days, no one’s career is safe, and those who learn will be better off. Besides, learning new concepts and facts just makes you a more interesting person.

5. What’s Up With That: Why It’s So Hard to Catch Your Own Typos

Ever wondered why you can’t catch all of your own writing errors, no matter how hard you try? This article gives some insight. It talks about how our brains concentrate on the high-level task of putting together complex ideas and generalizes details, such as putting letters and words together. It ends with some tips to trick your brain into thinking it’s seeing your work for the first time.

Like any other writer, I’ve left silly mistakes in my writing many times. And I’ve wondered how I could possibly have missed it. I’m also an experienced editor; how can I not catch all of my mistakes? Well, this article gave me some insights I’ve never thought about before. We’re all best off when we have someone else edit our work. But if we don’t have an editor, this article and the comments that follow give some great tips that should help.

6. The History of Typography (video)

Have you ever wondered about fonts? Where did they come from? How did they get their names? When were they developed? This really cool video gives an overview of the history of typography. As a former page designer, I was familiar with many different fonts. I really enjoyed learning about some of them in this video.

I hope you enjoy these articles as much as I did!

Readers, what articles did you enjoy over the past few weeks? Which one on my list was your favorite? Share a link or a comment!

Keep readers’ interest with variety and verve in your blog posts

Have you ever read a blog where all of the sentences sound the same? Do you feel like your own sentences could use more variety?

Let’s face it: Writing is hard. And that goes for blog writing as much as it does for any other type of writing. In addition to paying attention to facts, spelling, grammar and wording, you also have to watch your sentence rhythm and variety so you don’t put your reader to sleep.

Sentence-variety

When you’re writing blog posts, there are several ways you can add variety to the length and rhythm of your sentences. It’s worth the time to write better and hold your reader’s interest.

To help you construct better sentences, and sentences with more variety, this post talks about why variety is important and gives you some tips on how you can add variety to your writing.

Sentence variety is important because you don’t want all of your sentences to sound the same. If they’re all constructed the same way, you’ll bore your reader. As you write your next blog post, strive for variety in the length and construction of your sentences, and you’ll hold the reader’s interest better.

Subject-verb-object is the most basic sentence construction, and there’s nothing wrong with using it. But a series of subject-verb-object sentences is repetitive and boring. For example: I attended a lecture. The speaker droned on. I was bored. I fell asleep.

All of those sentences are short, and they all sound the same. How can we add more variety to these sentences? They can be combined into one longer sentence in several ways.

  1. Reverse the order. Try starting with the verb. For example: “Was I bored, so bored I fell asleep, at the lecture I attended where the speaker droned on.”
  2. Place the object first. Instead of, “I was so bored I fell asleep at the lecture I attended,” you could say, “The lecture, where the speaker droned on, was so boring that I fell asleep.”
  3. Place a phrase or clause between the subject and verb. For example: “I attended a lecture, where the speaker droned on, and being bored, I fell asleep.
  4. Use phrases and clauses at the beginning. For example: Being bored, I fell asleep at the lecture while the speaker droned on.

When you’re writing your blog sentences, another way to add variety is to think about the position of emphasis. Think about what you want to emphasize, and put the most important thing at the end of the sentence, the second most important thing at the beginning, and the least important in the middle. Or, to give it a visual representation: 2/3/1.

Continuing with our example from above, if you wanted to emphasize falling asleep, you could write: “The speaker droned on at a lecture I attended, and I was so bored that I fell asleep.”

Or, if you wanted to emphasize the speaker’s droning, you could write: “I fell asleep because I was so bored at the lecture where the speaker droned on.”

The sentence structure that I’ve been describing is called a periodic sentence. It’s shaped so that the most important idea is at the end for maximum emphasis. You build suspense with this technique. If you place the action – or verb – toward the end of the sentence, you can easily construct a periodic sentence.

Sentences are nothing more than word structures. If you want to keep your readers interested, there are several other techniques you can use to craft memorable – and maybe even shareable – word structures. You can create figurative images, drama and cadence.

You can create figurative images using metaphors and similes for vivid comparisons. They help us understand abstract concepts by comparing them to something more concrete. Using our example from above again, you could say, “The lecture speaker was as boring as watching plaster dry, and I fell asleep.

You can also use personification to bring human qualities to inanimate things or ideas. For example, if you say, “My computer throws a fit every time I try to use it” you’re personifying the computer. Throwing fits is a human quality being used to describe a computer. I found that example on this website, which has more examples of personification.

There are a couple of techniques you can use to create drama. You can use a short sentence to express a vitally important thought, such as: “I fell asleep! I was so bored at the lecture because the speaker droned on.”

Using deliberate omission is also effective. This means leaving out a word or phrase the audience expects to hear. An example is the famous quote by Julius Caesar: “I came, I saw, I conquered.”

Creating cadence gives your sentences a rhythm, which helps make them memorable. One technique is parallelism, which occurs when two or more clauses in close proximity have an identical grammatical pattern. For example, you could use three –ing verbs: “The speaker was droning, the lecture was boring, and I was sleeping.”

Repetition of a key word or phrase gives rhythm and power to your sentences. Using our example from above, you could say, “I went to the lecture; I was bored; I fell asleep.” Repeating “I” several times gives the sentence a rhythm.

Another technique is antithesis. In language style, antithesis is a sentence having a parallel structure, but with two parts contrasting each other. An example of antithesis is this: “Speech is silver, but silence is gold.” This example came from here where you can see more examples.

Alliteration also creates cadence. It’s the repetition of a consonant sound several times in a phrase, clause, or sentence. For example: “Carrie’s cat clawed her couch, creating chaos.” This example came from this website, where there is an example of alliteration for each letter of the alphabet.

When it comes to using memorable sentences and word structures effectively, you want to make sure you don’t overdo it. Don’t put the focus on your language rather than your content. Use these techniques at specific points in your writing. Save them for when you want your reader to remember your key ideas. These techniques are also good for economizing words when your sentences get too long.

Constructing better and more varied sentences takes time, but the payoff is worth it. Your writing will be more punchy and lively, and most important, it will better hold your reader’s attention.

Readers, do you think about variety in the rhythm and length of your sentences? How do you add variety to your writing? Let us know in the comments!

A lesson in striking unnecessary words for tighter writing

In today’s lesson post, I’m going to look at a particular wordy phrase that I see on websites everywhere. So many online writers use it, but chopping it out can make your writing tighter. If your writing is tighter, it has more impact and makes you look more professional. The phrase I’m talking about: on a ____ basis. Fill in the blank with any one of several words, such as regular, daily, weekly or ongoing.

On-a-__-basis

Before you use the phrase “on a ___ basis,” think about whether you really need it, or if you can get rid of some of the words or use an adverb instead. Your writing will be tighter.

This phrase isn’t an error in the same way as other errors I’ve discussed in my previous lessons on apostrophe use and its/it’s. It’s not “wrong” like a grammar, spelling or punctuation error. “On a ____ basis” is a matter of style, though, of thinking about wordiness and whether you can chop the phrase out. It’s also considered pompous and jargony. I’ve collected a few examples from various websites. Let’s take a look at them and how we can fix them.

Example 1: Millions of people frequent all the different social media entities on a daily basis. This example came from a website that invites users to submit articles.

The error: The phrase “on a daily basis” at the end of this sentence is unnecessary.

The fix: With a little editing, we can get rid of three of the last four words of this sentence and tighten it without ruining the meaning.

The correct sentence: Millions of people frequent all the different social media entities daily.

Example 2: Picture a place where the brightest minds in content marketing gather on a weekly basis to share their insights and questions. This one came from the blog of a company that provides content marketing to online companies.

The error: The phrase “on a weekly basis” needs to be shortened.

The fix: Similar to the first example, we can take three of the four words out of that phrase.

The correct sentence: Picture a place where the brightest minds in content marketing gather weekly to share their insights and questions.

Example 3: On an everyday basis, the blog editor holds the responsibility of managing the team of writers who may include in-house writers, freelance writers and contributing writers or guest authors. This example came from the blog of a professional content company.

The error: This blog post was good otherwise, but it used the wordy phrase “on an everyday basis.”

The fix: There is more than one way to fix this one, but the best way is to use the adverb regularly instead and place it right before the verb so the sentence starts off stronger.

The corrected sentence: The blog editor regularly holds the responsibility of managing the team of writers who may include in-house writers, freelance writers and contributing writers or guest authors.

Example 4: What’s coming, what’s trending, what’s sinking, what’s changing are some of the questions I have to ask on an ongoing basis. This sentence came from the monetized blog of a communications professional.

The error: I like the rhythm created in the first part of this sentence, but then it ends with the wordy phrase “on an ongoing basis,” which weakens it.

The fix: There are a couple of ways to correct this sentence. One is to put the word “ongoing” before the word questions, and the other is to replace the wordy phrase with the adverb “continuously.”

The corrected sentence: What’s coming, what’s trending, what’s sinking, what’s changing are some of the ongoing questions I have to ask. OR What’s coming, what’s trending, what’s sinking, what’s changing are some of the questions I have to ask continuously.

The lesson: Cut the words on, a and basis, or use an adverb to replace this phrase. Too much wordiness can detract from the quality of your writing.

Using the phrase “on a ____ basis” too much brings down the quality of your writing. It also makes you sound like the other writers out there who don’t take the time to chop out the extra words.

I love the first line on this website: “The world has only so much space. When you write, your job is to use that space carefully.” When you think twice about using the phrase “on a ____ basis,” you use your writing space carefully, and you produce writing that sounds a little better than everyone else on the Internet.

Readers, do you find yourself using this phrase? Does it bother you when others do it? Are there other wordy phrases that bother you? Let us know in the comments!

Do you have a good blog post idea? Here are eight ways to tell

You’ve found inspiration for a blog post idea, but how do you know if it’s a good idea or not? How do you evaluate an idea to judge its strength for a blog post?

Some ideas you may have for writing a blog post will work out great. The words flow right onto your screen as you write, and the post brings you lots of traffic. With other blog post ideas, you might think they’re great, but they turn out to be weak. They’re difficult to write, you just don’t feel the connection, and very few readers care about the post.

How can you judge blog writing ideas so you have more of the first kind and fewer of the second kind?

I’ve talked previously about where to find blog post ideas, how to focus ideas, and how to develop your ideas. A couple of keys are to always keep your eyes and ears open for new ideas, write them down on a list, and think about your focus and what you want your reader to walk away with.

Now, let’s talk about how to evaluate an idea so you can separate the good from the bad.

Assessing-blog-ideas

You have an idea, but aren’t sure how good it is. Assess your idea using these criteria, and you’ll be more sure you have a strong idea that will turn into a great post.

Here are eight ways you can assess your story idea:

  1. Where did it come from? Is it based on facts or research, something you saw on another blog, or something you’ve thought of?
  2. Is it original? Can you find a new angle?
  3. Does it surprise you? If so, will it surprise your readers?
  4. Does it have movement? Does it have change or something new that people are interested in?
  5. Is there tension or conflict? Is there a problem to be overcome or a mystery to be solved?
  6. Is there a story? Is there a tale that readers can relate to? Does it have a beginning, middle and end?
  7. Is the story true? Or is it a fictional or hypothetical scenario?
  8. Do you like the idea?

An idea doesn’t have to have all of these criteria to be worthy of exploring further. But if you can answer yes to several of these questions, you’re on your way to a strong idea. Let’s expand on some of these assessment tips.

For blog writing, it doesn’t matter whether the story came from facts or research, or it’s just something you came up with. Any source of an idea can have equal merit, but keeping in mind where it came from can help you think about how to approach the idea.

In these days of so much content online, it’s hard to find a completely original idea. It’s important to do a search to see if it has been written about, and what has been written about it. If it’s been covered before, find a new angle to make it fresh and interesting. See if it can be updated or given different treatment.

With so much online content, it’s also hard to surprise readers. If you have an original idea, this is easier to do. But even if your idea has been written about, you can still surprise readers with new facts, with your opinion, or by injecting your unique personality and perspective.

Readers like to see movement, change, or conflict on an issue. They like to see what’s new, or what side you’re on. They like to see whether they agree or disagree with you. They also like to see if your post solves their problem. If your idea can do one or more of these things for readers, they’ll probably enjoy reading it, and you’ll enjoy writing it.

Readers also like to read stories. We relate to stories, both our own and other people’s. If you can tell a story with your idea, you’ll draw the reader in. True stories are the best, but if you don’t have a true story, fictional or hypothetical stories can still strengthen your idea. Just be sure to be ethical and tell the reader whether the story is true or not.

Finally, you need to make sure you like the idea. We focus a lot on making sure the reader likes your posts, but you the writer should also like them. If you don’t like your idea, how are you going to make the reader like it? You’re going to spend a lot of time on it, with writing, editing, posting and promotion, so make sure you’re interested enough to keep your readers interested. If you don’t like the idea, chances are it will flop.

Not every idea will turn out perfect. With all the judgment and evaluation in the world, an idea still may not turn out as well as you anticipated. But I hope these tips help you have more good ideas than bad ones. By assessing your ideas for their strength, you can keep yourself and your readers connected to your blog posts.

Readers, how do you evaluate ideas? Have you ever written about an idea that didn’t turn out so well? Or one that did great? Let us know in the comments!

Keeping you informed: Great links you should read

I’ve read and shared a lot of great articles and posts on my Twitter feed and Facebook and Google+ pages over the past few weeks. Here is a round-up of my six favorites. I’ll give you the link and a brief description of what the article is about and why I liked it. Take a look at the ones that intrigue you!

1. How a password changed my life

We usually think of passwords as nuisances that force us to come up with a complex string of letters, numbers and special characters that mean nothing to anyone else, but that we won’t forget. But this post tells the story of a man who used his password as a monthly goal, or mantra. He pulled himself out of a depression and changed his life. I won’t tell you how; you have to read it.

I really enjoyed this story because it’s about someone who turned an annoyance into a motivator. There are several lessons here about turning negatives into positives. To meet our goals, we need small steps and constant reminders. The way this author used his password to do that is a unique approach, which I appreciate. The story also has a happy ending. If you’re sentimental, you might get a little misty-eyed.

2. Why in the world I hand-wrote my emails – and what it taught me about how we write

Handwriting? As in, picking up a pen and paper and forming letters? Who does that anymore? In this column, one journalist for the Seattle Times wrote about her two-day experiment to handwrite everything – tweets, texts, statuses and emails. She explained what she was doing to recipients and got back some interesting responses, as well as a slew of handwritten tweets.

This column was thought-provoking for me. I don’t handwrite much anymore. I spent my early career in journalism, where you had to be efficient. So I learned to type everything, except for keeping a handwritten to-do list. Now, I’ve even converted that to Google Calendar and Google Keep. This column reminded me that there’s a slowness and thoughtfulness to handwriting. You have to be more careful to make it legible. You have to engage your mind differently than typing. This is a good reminder that handwriting, even if only for yourself, has benefits that typing doesn’t.

3. Three Psychological Secrets to Turn Visitors into Customers

This post gives us a fictional buyer, Jane, and tells us why Jane might visit a website or blog. What is she looking for? Why did she follow the link? Then the post moves on to give three ways we can tweak our copy to overcome Jane’s objections before she even knows she has them.

I like this approach because it could apply to so many areas of online business. If you’re looking to make money from your blog or from your own informational products, this post offers great ways to write your sales copy so that it stands out from other sales copy on the web. If you’re a freelancer, I can see how you could apply this approach to your positioning copy. It could help get a potential client to hire you once they find your website. Overall, I found this article very useful.

4. Would You Quit Facebook for 99 Days?

A Dutch communications agency started the idea of giving up Facebook for 99 days after the social network’s experiments with users’ emotions were recently reported. This agency is conducting a mood experiment of its own, asking if people are happier without Facebook. Participants complete surveys along the way during the 99 days to measure the experiment’s impact on their lives.

First, I was intrigued by the question in the headline of this article. As Facebook becomes more boring and banal, and keeps changing its algorithms, I often wonder why I check it so many times a day. Yet, I can’t leave it alone. I wondered if I could give up Facebook for 99 days. Could you? Even if you decide you can’t give it up, this article might make you think about Facebook’s place in your life.

5. The Surprisingly Savvy Weird Al Internet Machine

This article analyzes famous parody artist Weird Al Yankovic as a media brand. The story highlights the ways in which he has adapted remarkably well to the Internet, YouTube, and the new faster media culture. It also looks at the ways his recording contract and marketing process have held him back. The article ends with speculation, and a few quotes from Al, about how he will distribute his work in the new media culture now that his recording contract is fulfilled.

This article caught my eye because, well, I love Weird Al! The man’s a genius, and he has stayed in the music business longer than most musicians he has spoofed over the years. This article takes an objective look at how he has done that. He has not only used his talent and intelligence, but also good old-fashioned hard work. I’m glad to see this musician, who is often underappreciated, get a few minutes in the limelight for the talent behind his comedy music.

6. Video: “Word Crimes” by Weird Al Yankovic

Weird Al bonus! Al takes on bad grammar in this parody of Robin Thicke’s “Blurred Lines.” He’s just as sick of it as I am! Not only is Al’s parody much more intelligent than the original in my opinion, but he teaches us something that desperately needs to be taught, with a fun and catchy beat.

I have loved many Weird Al songs over the years, but this one may have just become my favorite. Al uses his celebrity power to say what I’ve been saying on my humble little blog. I’m so glad to see celebrities calling out the bad grammar that we now see all over the place.

For another celebrity example, TV star Kelsey Grammer has started a Twitter account for the express purpose of correcting people’s Twitter grammar. If you’re interested, follow him at @kelseygrammer or his hashtag at #KelseyGrammerGrammar. Go Weird Al and Kelsey!

I hope you enjoy these articles as much as I did!

Readers, what articles did you enjoy over the past couple of weeks? Which one on my list was your favorite? Share a link or a comment!